Monday, August 31, 2015

Batman/Superman, Vol.1: Cross World by Greg Pak and Jae Lee

Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross WorldBatman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World by Greg Pak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The artwork is a stunner in this graphic novel volume, however the story is rather incomprehensible. It's hard to track what's going on, seeing as how there are two different Batmans and Supermans (technically one is Superboy), and their behavior was different from what you expect from the characters. I think the origin story about Darkseid was pretty awesome. I'd definitely give that a higher rating than the rest of this volume. Overall, it's a three star read that could have been smashing with more effort for clarity.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire

The Dream StealerThe Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel reads like a fable, ripe with Russian culture and built on the foundation of well-known and more obscure Russian folklore. Two children in a small village in Russia called Miersk face the knowledge that the Blood Prince, a huge, demonic wolf, is coming their way and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Underneath all the fable elements, there is a strong theme of the alienation of childhood from adulthood. Children are rarely heeded, listened to, or taken seriously. Through a benign sort of emotional neglect, adults leave children to build their own worlds and societies among themselves to fill an emotional void. I'm speaking in generalities. There are plenty of wonderful parents who are intimately involved in their children's lives. There are also parents who mean well, but are weighted under by the cares of life. You can see that dynamic in this book. Pasha's father is in the shadow of his own father, a dominant and opinionated man who dismisses Pasha's concerns as being ridiculous. Other than when he is needed for chores, it appears as though Pasha is left to his own devices. Whereas Lisette's father has been soured by the loss of his beloved wife and therefore neglects his daughter and his infant son when he's not raging and yelling at Lisette. Pasha and Lisette form a friendship of necessity that becomes true as they muster their courage to save their village from the Blood Prince.

I admit I rushed through reading this because I had to return it back to the library that day. I feel that I had taken my time, I would have been better able to bask in the richness of Russian culture on display. Russian culture is my thing. I have an absurd attraction to it and the language. Some might argue that mistakes were made, but I felt it was well done. There are some very lovely and magical moments that would make for a striking animated film that I hope will be made some day. Baba Yaga plays a prominent role and while she's generally regarded as a villain, she's a huge help to the people of the village, perhaps for her own reasons.

I think I would have given this a higher rating if it had been a little deeper and richer. I am probably asking too much, since this is a children's book. For what there was, it was a lovely little fable.

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The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I started this in early August, but it took me a while to finish it. One of the reasons is it's a profoundly unsettling book. I'm a scientist by training, and I take the ethics of science pretty personally. Dr. Moreau crosses so many ethical/moral lines in his experimentation, it's not even funny. Some things just should not be done, even if it's to advance scientific knowledge. I am also a inveterate lover of animals, and I felt a horrible rage at the way Dr. Moreau was torturing animals. I feel it's fair to admit I am a meat eater, and I don't feel that eating meat is wrong. This book did make me feel extreme discomfort and think about what an animal goes through so I can eat a hamburger (something that I know intellectually but still ponder the ethics of regularly). However, there is a clear line that even both vegans and avowed carnivores can agree on: torturing animals for no reason, and inflicting pain on them because they are merely animals and don't feel pain the way humans does is terribly wrong. Also, to treat animals he had ostensibly humanized with no decency or respect was capping off the wrong that Moreau was doing. I admit I wasn't sad about Dr. Moreau's fate at all. I could feel Prendick's sense of pervasive horror acutely. Because of that, I had to put the book down at one point and didn't go back to it until yesterday/today. I listened to this on Kindle Text-to-Speech and it adds an element of horror to experiencing the book as an auditory experience.

HG Wells is a good writer. He immerses the reader fully into the story. He writes descriptively and seems to be aware of science in a way that lends credibility to the story (although my mind went to what we know about tissue matching, organ donation and graft rejections today). I felt all the emotions that Prendick felt, although not his sense of superiority that comes from being a white Englishman of the 19th century. I know I would feel the weirdness of humanlike animals put in a situation where they are forced to act human but are denied the same respect and decency that humans deserve. I believe in the quality of life for animals and as a veterinarian this is a huge issue for me. I felt so sorry and angry on behalf of the Beast Men that it was a huge discomfort factor for me as I read. That's probably a good thing. I don't think anyone should be okay with how those poor beings were treated.

There is a touch of racism but it's not as bad as some of the classic novels can be. I always notice it, because I'm a black woman, and for good reason, I am clearly sensitive to such things. It's good to read books from different periods and see how things were then and be grateful that things have changed for the better, or at times, realize things haven't changed all that much.

I wonder what Wells would say about some of the things we do in modern medicine/medical research without blinking an eye at. Thankfully, there are stringent limitations on animal research (although I admit that I think some research that takes place is beyond what I consider moral or ethical). If anything, this kind of story will make a reader feel uncomfortable and ask themselves about what is ethically okay, and challenge them to feel things from a different perspective that they might not always be sensitive to.

Prendick was mostly a sympathetic character. He was in a very extreme situation way beyond his control or comprehension, and his actions were probably what one could expect for someone put in such a horrific situation. I can see why he would remain scarred emotionally for the rest of his life. Who could blame him?

This is a book that can easily be classified as science fiction horror. The horror is psychological because of being confronted with the extremes of science and the unnatural results of it on nature. HG Wells is considered a foundational science fiction writer, and I believe he definitely writes something prophetic about biomedical research that still can serve as a warning to us in the 21st Century. There is a line and we must not cross it.

I can't give this more than 3.5 stars because of the ick factor. The writing is good but it made me feel icky inside. As an emotional reader, I have to listen to those instincts.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Code Name: Papa by Aliyah Burke

Code Name: PapaCode Name: Papa by Aliyah Burke
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Ms. Burke gave me just what I was asking for: a great interracial spy romance. And the heroine is Grade A Certified Kickbutt Artist. She reminds me favorably of one of my all time favorite heroines, Charly Baltimore from "The Long Kiss Goodnight." There's even a line about her joining the PTA and making pretty good cookies. Happy sigh!

Seriously, Indigo is the real deal. She is hardcore. She's an ex assassin who goes off the grid to raise her son by her ex-partner, Beckett. They are reunited when he's sent to retrieve her from a Mexican jail. She cannot go back to their ex-agency. She has to save her son from the people who kidnapped him. Beckett finds out he's a papa in a very explosive way. And Beckett quickly chooses that he's going to help his ex-partner and lover get their son back. They make a killer team (literally).

I love that Burke makes the action authentic. Sometimes with romantic suspense, the action takes a backburner. The spy stuff will make a spy fan happy. Indigo and Beckett really do act like operatives. It also reminded me of "Alias", which is one of my all time favorite shows. Indigo has many of the traits I loved about Sydney Bristow, although she's more emotionally closed off. The scenes in which Indigo does what she needs to do to get her son back are well-orchestrated. I liked that even though there are plenty of steamy scenes, they are appropriate to the story. No extraneous sex breaks. And while it's clear that Indigo and Beckett love each other, they have to work through their issues and put the past into perspective. You can see that they were always good together. Their romantic relationship was built on a solid foundation of mutual respect and friendship, and despite the way things ended, that didn't change, except maybe for the better.

While this read a little slow at times (It was probably me and not it. I'm a bit short attention span right now), it ends with an explosive action sequence that will make any bonafide action lover happy. And the operations felt pretty authentic to me (not that I have a spy background!).

I gave this 4.25 well deserved stars because it's a very good story. The writing flows and it has a cinematic feel. Burke know show to bring on the sexy without being kinky or off-puttingly raunchy. The characters are three-dimensional (although I wish that Indigo's physical features were more described). Beckett is likable despite the fact that he acted like a commitment-avoiding Peter Pan in the past. I couldn't hate Indigo for her choice to disappear and have her baby without Beckett, based on their situation and the way Beckett acted in the past. It was good that she got to hear Beckett's side of things and to see that Beckett had changed. He deserved the right to know his son, and clearly he would die protecting both of them.

Burke delivers on the spy romance and with a dangerous couple to boot. Pick this up when you need your kickbutt heroine action romance fix.



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Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan

Dark Hunger (Dark 14)Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm just now getting back into reading the Carpathians after such a long break. This was a good start. About Riordan, the youngest De La Cruz brother and Juliette a member of the jaguar shapeshifting species, this is a steamy and action-packed short read.

It has all of the Carpathian aspects that one would expect to see. The manner in which a Carpathian male is brought back to life by his destined lifemate. I have missed all that ritual and the culture of the Carpathians. It was interesting how Juliette and Riordan work out their new matehood. Juliette comes from a species that is highly sexual and Riordan has to get past his jealousy that Juliette was with other men. He isn't a jerk about it, but it's definitely part of his nature to be highly possessive. He loves Juliette, so he accepts that this is part of who she is. It turns out that Juliette is an excellent match for him. Strong and independent, and sensual. Juliette has some serious baggage, due to the dysfunctional social dynamics of the jaguar, the way they abuse their women. She lives with her younger sister, Jasmine and her cousin Solange, and none of them are overly fond of men, with good reason. My mind went to the fact that despite their dislike of men, they had to do their thing because of their species, physical needs. Perhaps in a longer book, Feehan could have delved into that whole jaguar dynamic. It was interesting, and seems to fit thematically with my last couple of Feehan reads, which were in the Leopard series.

This is full of sensuality that Feehan writes so well, and the action is very good and well-integrated into the story. I love reading about all the abilities of the Carpathians, and they're uniquely tailored to this story about a Carpathian with a jaguar shifter lifemate. Of course, it does end abruptly, as a short story. It left me wanting more of Juliette, Riordan, Jasmine and Solange, so that's a good thing.

I went ahead and got this in Darkest at Dawn, in which it's accompanied by Dark Secret, a more controversial Carpathian book, although it's one of my favorites.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was admittedly a slow read for me. But it's proof that some things are worth sticking in for and waiting on. At its heart, this is a moving story about a young boy who is coming to terms with his identity as an adoptee. He's asking the questions about his birth family, but that in no way invalidates his feelings or attachment to his adoptive family. On the surface, this is a mystery/adventure about a treasure hunt in a house that once belonged to a famous smuggler. Milo wanted a quiet Christmas with his family, but unexpected guests arrive and change the whole dynamic. But it turns out this is a pivotal event that will put to rest old secrets and reveal the answers to all the questions of the guests that come to stay in Greenglass House one snowy Christmas week.

While this moved slowly, and I found myself rereading several parts to make sure I understood what was happening, there is a strength to the narrative that made me want to soldier through. I found Milo adorable. He's Chinese by birth and ethnicity, and he's sick of that question of why he doesn't look like his white parents. He's a quiet and bookish kid with a big inner life, and he's ripe for an adventure. Milo meets a young girl who comes along with their cook, and they become partners in a Dungeons and Dragons-like game called "Odd Trails", which ties in very heavily with their quest for secrets about Greenglass House.

That mystery is extremely clever. Especially how the very house itself is full of clues about the mystery. I would enjoy staying at Greenglass House, and exploring its several floors that have stood the test of time, and gazing at the raging winter (I love winter) outside the beautiful stained glass windows. Any good mystery writer presents a group of suspects, and each one is interesting, with deep motives yet to be discovered.

The end was quite a lovely surprise. I hadn't suspected what we find out near the end, but it definitely makes sense, and there are seeds all along. That's the hallmark of a good mystery to my mind.

The author writes an afterword about her reasons for writing this novel, and that adds so much to the story. How this came out of her personal journey to adoption, along with other aspects of the genesis of writing this novel, in which an adoptee plays a major role.

I'm glad my library had this book, and for the recommendation from my friend Rane. While it took me a good while to read, it was definitely worth the reading. I'll look forward to reading other books by Ms. Milford.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Surrender to Seduction by Robyn Donald

Surrender to SeductionSurrender to Seduction by Robyn Donald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. This wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It has some very nontraditional aspects to the storyline, with two delays on what I'd consider a textbook romance HEA. Also, the hero does something pretty lousy to the heroine (even if he thought he had good reasons at the time). I understand his motives, but the way he made excuses about it, I didn't like it so much. Readers who like a heroine with serious commitment issues might enjoy this. Her mother has a history of running out on her family and lovers. Gerry has avoided relationships because of her fear that she can't stay in love and stay committed to a man. Bryn causes all kinds of intense emotions in her, and while she's tried to avoid him, he continually engineers situations where they are in contact, with some very calculated reasons.

It's not my favorite by this author. I think it's emotionally intense in the way her books are, but it wasn't satisfying to me. I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I like a committed HEA at the end of my book (this one has it, but there's a two year delay.) This kept my interest, so that's something.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Awakening by Christine Feehan

The Awakening (Leopard People, #1)The Awakening by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice introduction to the Leopard series. I'm late reading this, but I finally got an opportunity. I splurged and downloaded Fever (a duology of "The Awakening" and Wild Rain, which I've already read. This took me a while because I was listening to it on Kindle Text-To-Speech at bedtime, and I kept falling asleep and having to rewind.

We learn about the Leopard shifters and how their society and physiology works. We're along for the ride as Maggie Odessa goes to the Borneo rain forest to find out about her birth parents. She's been lured there by Brandt Talbot, the man who happens to be her destined mate. He's known for some time that she was his mate (in their race they spend lifetimes looking for their mates). Maggie has no idea that she's a Leopard shifter. She's getting some feelings and physiological changes that don't make sense and are actually quite embarrassing, including some amorous feelings when that wasn't a problem before now.

At first, Brandt seems a bit stalkerish. I don't mind that if it's done well. It was a little weird in this book. He was stalking along beside Maggie in panther form when she arrives with some of the Leopard Men to their village. I was like, could you just say hi already? I was glad he finally introduced himself, and I think that he did come a little too strong at first. However, I liked that he realized that his love for Maggie meant that he had to make sure she was happy with being with him. I like that it wasn't going to be a foregone conclusion that she would accept him. He gave her the choice. Interestingly enough, I found Brandt quite a desirable contrast to the hero in Cat's Lair, who assumed and was willing to force his mate to accept him. I think that Maggie and Brandt are a really excellent match, although I didn't feel that way at all about the couple in "Cat's Lair."

I really liked that Maggie gained control of her change on her own, and I loved the scene when she changes for the first time. That was very well done. I felt like I was seeing and feeling everything along with her. The rainforest and its flora and fauna was beautifully rendered in Feehan's descriptive pose. I wouldn't love the humidity or the insects, but I would love seeing so much vibrant life firsthand.

This was pretty darn steamy. Less of the off color words that are in the newer books, but no less steamy. Great chemistry between Maggie and Brandt. Not hard to believe they loved each other, even in this short format.

The suspense aspect was a little weak, to be honest. Feehan was a bit preachy about the environmental message. Don't get me wrong. I'm 100% on board with conservation and environmental awareness, but I don't like when it comes off as a Public Service Announcement in a fiction novel. But overall, this was a satisfactory short story. I'll give it the full four stars.

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Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics by Ted Naifeh

Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics (Courtney Crumrin, #2)Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics by Ted Naifeh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second volume in the Courtney Crumrin series is superior to its predecessor. It's atmospheric and creepy, and a bit sad underneath it all. Courtney is not remotely a sweet little girl. She's cranky and isolated from her peers. She has a devious nature. However, she's also decent and kind when she wants to be. She's so well drawn, her personality coming through loud and clear.

At first, I didn't like that the whole book is drawn/inked in black and white. I prefer color, but it suits the story and the mood very well. The drawings are gorgeous and the use of shadow and light (values) is impeccable. As an artist, it's important to be able to convey everything through the strength of one's skill with that particular medium, and Naifeh definitely succeeds. It's interesting that I just completed a unit on Chiaroscuro in my drawing class around the time I read this. This book enhanced my understanding of its usefulness in illustration.

There is a very sad element to this book that affected me even after I finished the book. I'm still grieving about it, actually. Someone innocent is used as a pawn and injustice seems to win out. Courtney resorts to extreme measures to exact justice, and one wonders what stains that will put on her soul. Her magic ability is growing in leaps and bounds, and it's going to be interesting to see where that goes in the next volumes.

I like her uncle. He's a pretty tough character. I wish there was more interaction between Courtney and him in the books.

An interesting world that seems to be growing in an intriguing way. I'll keep reading these.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

Never Kiss a Rake (Scandal at the House of Russell, #1)Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is sly, sensual, humorous and firmly ensconced in the period. Even if I wasn't the biggest Anne Stuart fan on earth, I will still have found this book utterly enchanting.

I was really nervous with the storyline because I hate adultery with a burning passion. I'm happy with how things unfolded. There was no line crossing in this book that I couldn't live with. While Lord Kilmartyn is supposed to be a sleazy rake, I was completely in love with him quite early on in the book. I found him very seductive and I could see why Bryony fell for him, despite being a very sensible young woman. I liked the importance of his Irish heritage to his persona, and how it had gotten him into a shaky situation of late, but defined him in a way that he couldn't turn his back on. I wish that Ms. Stuart had delved more into where his marriage went wrong, but I got the impression that he wanted to be a good husband to his wife at some point, and he loved her, but now he hated her. In some books with the unrepentant, adulterous rake, I question the character's ability to remain faithful to the heroine, but I have no doubt that Kilmartyn would be capable of that with Bryony. His caring for her when she was in need was very touching and showed more than words.

I also loved Bryony as a character. Her pain in feeling unloved and unattractive because of her smallpox scars made sense. While it scarred her self-esteem, she was still a strong-minded person and no fainting flower in the face of her family's recent change in fortunes. I like her pluck and how her natural personality comes out in her interactions with Kilmartyn. I rooted for her to get him, and win him over in a way that didn't cross the line into adultery or illicit affair territory and I was glad Ms. Stuart gave her that happy ending with no compromise in that area.

The secondary characters are a fun addition to the book, with a little bit of the "Upstairs, Downstairs" vibe as Bryony gets engrossed in the world of the servants and they take her in, especially Mrs. Harkins the kindly chef.

I confess I read the last book before this, so I sort of know how it ends, but it didn't spoil things for me. There is still plenty of mystery in the storyline with what happened to Bryony and her sisters' father to keep the story interesting. That is if steamy romance with a soon-to-be reformed rake isn't enough to keep things exciting.

Never Kiss a Rake is a promising start to this newest historical romance series by Ms. Stuart. She brings all the steamy romance and engaging characters that make her books delicious reads for me. I hope to read Never Trust a Pirate very soon.

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Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen

Lucky YouLucky You by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun and laugh-out-loud book populated with plenty of 'characters'. I have only been to Florida once, so I can't comment on the veracity of this portrayal of Floridians, but I can't see how someone can make up this kind of weirdness without a grain of truth behind it all.

Under the levity, there is a very serious undercurrent. Two white supremacists who are so busy blaming blacks, Jews, Hispanics, gays, and other undesirables can't look in the mirror and see that they certainly could do much better at being upstanding citizens themselves. Everyone else is a scapegoat for the disappointments they have with life, and never can they take responsibility for their own lives. While I found their antics funny, there is a part of me that was really dismayed at the intensity of their hatred for people who didn't look like them or live their lives their way. Most importantly, hatred for manufactured reasons that make no sense. As unlikable as Bode and Chubb were, I really liked JoLayne and Tom, although they were no less quirky. JoLayne is an animal-loving vet tech with a history of bad romantic choices that she leverages as a lottery win by playing her age at which she broke up with each one every week. Tom has spent four years trying to divorce his wife who has been evading him because she doesn't want to be a divorcee. Tom gets sent to a small town to investigate the lottery win and ends up volunteering to help JoLayne to get her lottery ticket back.

The romance was well-integrated into the story. It starts out as respect and friendship and a romantic entanglement progresses sensibly. Along with the romance, this was a fun sort of caper, on-the-road read as JoLayne and Tom pursue the fellows who have beaten her up and stolen her lottery ticket, as well as wreaking havoc across the state of Florida.

Hiaasen gives the reader some really strange characters, and along the way, I found myself getting sucked into this story, rooting for JoLayne and Tom, scratching my head over the psychology of such flagrant bigotry as evidenced by Chub and Bode, and enjoying the Florida local color.

I've read another book by Hiaasen, but it was a long time ago. I'm glad that this book reminded me to add him to my roster of authors to pick up in my reading adventures.

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Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

The Wicked House of Rohan (The House of Rohan, #0.5)The Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick

Otherwise EngagedOtherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I listened to this on audio, and I enjoyed it. I didn't get quite as into this as other reads by this author on audio. I felt that the romance wasn't as well-developed. It seemed almost arbitrary, whereas the mystery was much stronger. The Bridegroom storyline was dark and twisted, and well-thought out. The Bridegroom was one creepy piece of work.

One thing I really liked was that Benedict felt awkward about himself as a romantic prospect. He felt that he might be too boring for a woman to want to be married to him, and that he wasn't romantic enough. I kind of get sick for the uber-confident hero who knows everything about love and romance. Benedict was sweet and adorable. He made me root for him in that regard. I liked Amity. She was independent and thoughtful. I liked that she had found her niche as a travel writer. Seeing Benedict and Amity's close bonds with their siblings added another level to the story. I also appreciated her sister's budding relationship with the Scotland Yard investigator they were working with on the Bridegroom case. Its tie-in with the industrial espionage aspect was a bit thin though.

I think I was disappointed because I liked the past few books on audio by Quick I've listened to. It wasn't bad, just not as good as I was hoping.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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